October 2010 - Great Spotted Woodpecker

Male great spotted woodpecker feeding in Lin's garden

Most of us who enjoy bird watching in our gardens have seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker which is quite common in Bawburgh. It is a resident bird and does not move far from its known territory, and is seen throughout the year. On the conservation front this bird is continuing to increase its range in the UK possibly due to an increase in nesting and feeding sites as old and dead trees are left in situ. The Great Spotted Woodpecker is about the size of a starling (23-26cm long with a wing span of 38-44cm). It is a pied bird being black and white with scarlet underneath the tail. The bill is grey coloured, legs grey-green and eye red. The male differs from the female in having a red patch on the nape. Juveniles have a red crown. They have stiff tail feathers which are used to prop the birds up as they cling to tree trunks. Their flight is undulating and they fold their wings against the body between each series of flaps. Most of us have heard  the drumming call of the woodpecker lasting only a few seconds, comprising 8-12 beats, then fading away, advertising its presence in the vicinity. The bird can be tracked down due to this call, which can be heard from quite a distance. Although tracked down it can be difficult to see as it has a habit of hiding on the side of the tree furthest from the observer!

The woodpecker’s tongue is extremely long and sticky and very well adapted to extracting insect larvae and ants from nest chambers and crevices. The tongue is so long that it is wrapped around the rear of the skull and back to the upper mandible. The woodpecker is an adaptive feeder and is often found feeding at garden peanut and suet feeders. They will also feed on berries and acorns in the winter when food is scarce.


  Female great spotted woodpecker feeding in Lin's garden

Their nest is a hole in a tree, chiselled out by both birds which, after being channelled horizontal for a few inches, will go perpendicular downwards. At the bottom of the shaft a small chamber is excavated and lined with wood chips. However, they are not beyond stealing another bird’s nest and evicting the owner, eggs and chicks. Indeed it will eat the eggs and chicks to vary its diet. Nest boxes can be made more secure from their attack by fitting a metal ring surround to the entrance hole. The 3-8 eggs, laid late April to May are white, smooth and glossy. Both birds share incubation and nursery duties. Eggs hatch after incubation of 10 to 16 days. The young leave the nest after 18-21 days. 

There is another Spotted Woodpecker which occurs in the UK - the far less common Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. This is sparrow sized. To my knowledge this bird has not been seen in Bawburgh though I would love to be proven wrong.

 

 

 lingibson@bawburghvillage.co.uk

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